December 28, 2014

When friendships are tough and you feel like an outsider

I was in 5th grade. Their names were Danielle and Jessica and it was recess. The three of us were standing there doing what 5th grade girls do (which is mostly giggle and talk about....I'm not sure exactly what we talked about) when suddenly the two of them looked at each other, exchanged a secret eye signal, and then ran away from me as fast as they could. I stood there for a moment confused, not sure exactly what had just happened. Thinking they were just being silly I ran after them and caught up to them and we immediately commenced our gaggle and giggles.

But just a few moments later they did it again. And this time it hit me. They were doing it on purpose.  They were purposefully running away from me, leaving me behind. They didn't want me to be their friend or a part of their circle (literally and figuratively) so they worked out a secret signal to exclude me.

Not long after that I went back to the playground and monkey bars and found the pin (the small, circular button kind that pin to your shirt) I had given them that day as a token of friendship smashed on the ground.

(It was a mullet Billy Ray Cyrus one no less. The nerve.)

Every word of this story is true. And every feeling of bereft-ness and leftout-ness and awkwardness and embarrassment that I felt then can still be conjured up today at just the memory of that experience.

And while that's sad and makes me want to lock my sons away in our house forever to spare them the cruelty of others, the sadder thing is that I'm 31 years old and I still see these same kinds of things happening, and between women especially. And I see it just as much within the Church as without.

(I know I've written some strong words towards the Church recently but it's because I know we can do better. I know that Jesus' words are truth and if we act on them, we'll actually be marked by knowing and loving him and loving others and it'll be evident at all times to all people, not just when we get our Church face on.)

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one anotherJohn 13:35

I see pictures season after season of the same groups of people doing the same things with the same groups of people and do you know what my thought was recently when I saw yet another one (not that many people care that much about my opinion but I'll share it anyways)? Where are the new people? Where are the poor? Where are the minorities? 

Why aren't we regularly immersed with the "least" and the "outcasts"? Why are our small groups and church groups and social clubs made up of the same people year after year?

The King will reply, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters (the hungry, thirsty, stranger, homeless, sick, prisoner) of mine, you did for me." Matthew 25:40

Lately, I've battled feelings of loneliness and those feelings of being on the outside looking in, those same feelings of being left out that I had on the playground in 5th grade.

And as the Lord has continued to break our hearts for the "least" and convicted and compelled us to act in love by opening our home and family, giving not just money (which I really think is easier) but our time and attention to those who don't know him or those that society considers to be the bottom, to intentionally share the Gospel and disciple others, these feelings of relational loneliness have gotten stronger.

While our spirits have been the most refreshed they've been in a long while and while our walk with the Lord has gotten deeper and stronger, we've battled loneliness more than ever.

I have a friend. (Yes, I do, thank you very much.)

I have a friend named Courtney. I've written about her before. And that's mostly because she's had such a profound impact on my life. This girl loves Jesus and people so much. And not in a warm and fuzzy way (though there's that too) but in a gives-her-life-away-on-behalf-of-others sort of way.

That's Courtney.

One of the things I love the most about Courtney is that she resists the cliques and clubs and innies, at the expense of her own feelings of belonging. She's more interested in making space in her life for the hurting and the lonely and the newbie than she is for making sure she gets her coffee date every week with her familiar friends.

Yesterday we got to hang out for the first time in a long while and we got to talking about all these things and discovered we'd been feeling the same way, battling those same feelings of loneliness and leftout-ness.

But here's the thing. And this is what I believe Jesus has been teaching us both. There's a cost to following him. And it's not going to cost everyone the same thing in every season. Just like he didn't ask everyone he encountered to sell everything they had and give it to the poor. He's a personal God and he calls us personally and while that call looks differently for everyone, there's going to be some common ground like sacrifice, perseverance, hardship, etc.

And the sacrifice in one season for you might be different than the sacrifice in another. In one season the cost might be giving still even though you have more month than money, as the wise ones like to say. In another, it might be those expensive coffee drinks to meet a real need, or downsizing your lifestyle, or giving up the familiarity of the same small group you've always known to invite new people in, or your sense of control and personal bubble to disciple someone else, or your clean floors and house to invite new families in, and on and on it goes. There is no one size fits all.

Except that if we're truly loving God in word AND in deed, it will cost us something.

Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 1st John 3:18

And for us right now in this season, with little spare time, that cost has been the safe comfort of a familiar friendship. Time together is scarce. But would we really trade the encounters with the poor and unbelievers and lonely just so we could have our coffee time? It's a harder road, yes, but the eternal rewards are so much more worth it.

These are the verses that Jesus brought to mind as I lamented this new season and some of the difficult things that have come with it.

Then Peter spoke up, "We have left everything to follow you!" "Truly I tell you," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life." Luke 18:29-30

We can't control how much other people include us or how they make us feel. But we can control how much we include others and how we make them feel. Let's think about the way we make people feel, either intentionally or unintentionally, and like I tell our boys all the time, I want you to show love to your brother/friends/mom/dad.

Let's not be the Jessica or Danielle of 5th grade. Let's show love. Tangibly, sacrificially, inclusively.